Academy award-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle reunites with his original Trainspotting cast 20 years later to make a sequel that deals with aging, accountability, friendship and once again, betrayal.
Those who saw the original film remember four friends in their twenties. They are up to no good, living on the fringes, immersed in drug culture and pulling a heist. Their exuberant youth and reckless lifestyle captured the popular culture of the 90s.
Trainspotting became a cult movie and few could believe that a sequel could measure up. Yet, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2 becomes a worthy companion to the original.
As in all Danny Boyle films, Trainspotting 2 takes us on a wild ride from its first frame. The camera focuses on treadmills at a gym and on a seemingly fit Mark Renton, running on one full speed when suddenly he falls off with a bang. He’s just had a heart attack. With this jolting introduction, Boyle reunites the cast from the original Trainspotting, which became a cult film in the 90s.
In this sequel, 20 years have gone by since Renton betrayed his gang after their heist in London, running away with the money. Now Renton, a broken man with a broken marriage, returns from Amsterdam to Scotland and to his ‘frenemies,’ seeking redemption. “He’s had a heart attack and he’s come back. These are the only people that really know him that he knows. And I suppose it’s a midlife crisis of sorts or a life crisis of sorts,” says Ewan McGregor, who played Mark Renton in 1996 and rose to stardom when the original Trainspotting became such a hit. The movie was a landmark in the lives of each of the cast members, but also for the filmmaker who — despite his wide-ranging success — reserves a special spot in his heart for this film.
In a way, Trainspotting 2 is Danny Boyle’s return to a familial place dealing with his own existential crisis. The filmmaker tells VOA he didn’t want to make just another sequel. He wanted a companion piece reflecting on the life of these aging men, who failed to amount to much in life and stubbornly cling to a youth that is not there.
“I think we were all conscious returning to it. How much a huge part it played in our individual careers. It gave us a life into the world which was surprising! We set the film to resemble the first film, everybody was paid the same, there wasn’t huge amounts of money, we didn’t treat it as a cash cow, we were not cashing in on our successful original, and we also wanted to surprise people with what the film has to say,” says the Oscar-winning filmmaker.
The reunion is dramatic. Simon, played by Jonny Lee Miller, schemes revenge, and Begbie, the most feral of them all, played by Robert Carlyle, recently escaped from prison and has vowed to kill Mark Renton. But the most redeeming character is Spud, played by Ewen Bremner. The hopeless addict, stuck in an endless loop of addiction and rehab, attempts suicide but is saved by Mark Renton.
“There are scenes in it which we benefited from addicts who told us that ‘you can’t really eradicate addiction,’ what they do in modern treatment is replace it with another obsession, an alternative obsession which is often sports. But in Spud’s case, it’s actually this writing and it was certainly true in Irvine Welsh’s case, the original writer. So, the film becomes ironically full of hope by the end,” says Boyle.
Spud goes on to write the original story of Trainspotting. Boyle says he wants to create this loop between the two films, showing that despite our aging process, our outlook to life is not linear. Like any other Danny Boyle film, Trainspotting 2 offers exuberant music, electrifying visuals, brutal scenes and yet its success lies in the honesty and tenderness with which the filmmaker and screenwriter John Hodge treat the aging characters.
“If you’re gonna do a sequel, a 20 years later sequel, the actors are not going to be able to hide from that. You’re gonna feel it in every frame of the film. It’s gonna be the protein of the film. And so, it’s a more confessional film, although there is a lot of the film that enjoys some of the pleasures that you get from the first film,” says Boyle.
Whether it appeals to the nostalgia of the older fans or the fast sensibilities of younger ones, Trainspotting 2 is slated to be another Danny Boyle success.